July 27, 2005

Access for disabled to be examined
By Jackie Kucinich

In recognition of the 15th anniversary of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), the House Administration Committee will meet
tomorrow to discuss whether the House is genuinely accessible to the
disabled and to examine ways to improve emergency preparedness for
people with special needs.

Brian Walsh, spokesman for committee Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio), said,
"The chairman has felt for some time that the committee should review
the progress that has been made in the House-complex buildings with
regard to improving access and safety for the disabled, as well as to
look ahead at what can be done to further improve things."

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who uses a wheelchair, will testify on the
first of three panels and said he
will address both what has already
been done and what still needs to be done immediately.

"There are only two ways in and out of the chamber," Langevin told The
Hill. "There is no quick way out of there."

While temporary pullout ramps could help in an emergency, a permanent
ramp opposite the Speaker's rostrum would be better, he said.

"I have trouble believing some kind of temporary solution is going to
work when seconds count," he said. "I've seen how quickly people leave
when the alarm bells sound."

He said that although he is aware that the elevator next to the
Speaker's lobby works during an emergency most visitors and staff with
disabilities or even members who are temporarily disabled may not. He
intends to ask the committee about the costs and benefits of shutting
off the elevators during a non-fire-related emergency, he said.

"There needs to be better marking [of emergency exits] and education to
visitors," Langevin added.

When there is no emergency, the House side of the Capitol campus is
"fairly good," he said, despite the lack of exits in the chamber.
Committee rooms are the least accessible part of the House side for a
member with a disability, he said, but he added that the Armed Services
Committee, of which he is a member, has made proper accommodations.

He praised Ney for going "above and beyond" any requests for

The second panel of the hearing will be composed of Architect of the
Capitol Alan Hantman, Chief Administration Officer Jay Eagen and Capitol
Police Chief Terrence Gainer, who will discuss various improvements and
projects that they are working on to improve the safety of visitors and
staff members with special needs.

The final panel will be composed of several members considered experts
in the field of accessibility.

Jeffrey Rosen, general counsel and director of policy for the National
Council on Disability, who was consulted about the hearing but will not
testify, told The Hill in a previous interview that even attending a
congressional hearing or visiting a member can be cumbersome for people
with certain disabilities.

Rosen, who is deaf, said some committees do not let him bring his
interpreter to hearings but required him to liaise with them about it

The hearing tomorrow will include several services for the disabled,
including an American Sign Language interpreter, a Close Vision
interpreter and real-time captioning service. 

"We cannot have the freedom of an impromptu meeting [with a member], the
meeting must be arranged in advance," Rosen said.

According to Susan Irby, a spokeswoman for the Senate Rules Committee,
"Senator Lott is constantly striving to address the concerns of the
to enable everyone to independently access the Senate building."

Irby said a member of Sen. Trent Lott's (R-Miss.) Rules Committee staff
meets monthly with the Senate superintendent and members of the
architect of the Capitol's staff to address issues with the Senate
buildings including issues with
ADA access.

She added that several programs are ongoing to accommodate individuals
with disabilities including the further installation of brail
"way-finding signs" outside of offices and facilities and an interpreter
service for the sight- and hearing-impaired through the Senate sergeant
at arms.

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